A former chief technology officer of Hewlett-Packard recently shared the profound observation with me that “the difference between a good idea and a great one is timing.”
While (too) much attention is often given to the dangers of being late to market — as HP assuredly was with its ill-fated and short-lived tablet computer — it can be just as deadly to prematurely enter a market before the technology, cost, or operational requirements are ready to deliver a viable consumer value proposition.
To put the issue of launch timing in context, recall that every new product launch must overcome three inherent risks to become a market success:
Another example of a great idea in theory, that failed to deliver an attractive value proposition, is the Segway. Hailed as a revolutionary product that would change the world when first introduced by inventor Dean Kaman in 2001, consumers never could figure out why a $3,000 motorized scooter (banned from operating on most big-city sidewalks) made any sense. The world may have changed over the past decade, but largely without the ubiquitous presence of Segways.
On a brighter note, it is possible to overcome initially negative market reactions to new product concepts, as some of the most successful current products (or those intriguingly on the horizon) demonstrate. Consider the following:
The reasons underlying Apple's success with the iPad have been well documented, including thoughtful design and UI, technical refinement (e.g. battery life, screen resolution), the availability of hundreds of thousands of apps and a huge installed base of step-up iPhone users. All of this boils down to great execution and timing. Steve Jobs had an uncanny sense of not only what, but when to introduce new technology.
After 40 years in management consulting and venture capital, I joined the faculty of Columbia Business School, teaching courses in business strategy and corporate entrepreneurship
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